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VUELTA’21 BREAKDOWN #4: Roglič Rocks the Final TT!

Ten Vuelta Takeaways

VUELTA BREAKDOWN: The 2021 Vuelta a España came to a close with a time trial in-front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and Primoz Roglič made sure of a third Spanish Grand Tour in a row with a stunning time trial performance. Spencer Martin gives us his breakdown and ten Vuelta’21 takeaways.

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Primoz Roglič stormed to his third in a row Vuelta a España win

The Vuelta a España’s final weekend saw a no holds barred mini one-day classic on Saturday, followed by an unusual final day time trial on Sunday that produced the 4th Primož Roglič stage victory of the race and delivered the Slovenian his third consecutive overall victory at the Spanish grand tour. The Olympic time trial champion’s performance on the final day was so dominant that he put a further two minutes between himself and second-place overall Enric Mas, who ended the stage 4’42 behind Roglic in the overall standings

The result meant that as we wrap up the season’s final grand tour, Roglič has won three grand tours in the past three seasons, which is more than the two other riders to win multiple grand tours over this time period, his rival countryman Tadej Pogačar and Egan Bernal. While this Vuelta gave us evidence that Roglič is likely a step above Bernal, it feels as though we walk away even more confused about the identity of the sport’s best grand tour racer. At times during this Vuelta, Roglič appeared unbeatable, which makes the battle we missed between the two Slovenian superstars at the Tour de France even more regretful.

A Roglič/Pogačar battle would have been good

Ten Takeaways:
1) Primož Roglič wins his 4th stage at this year’s Vuelta with an absolutely crushing ride in the time trial.

  • His ability to sustain a steady yet massive output of power over such an extended period of time, while also having a compact, aerodynamic position, makes him one of the best time trialists in modern cycling.
  • This time trial ability, combined with his world-class climbing, makes Roglic almost the perfect template for the modern grand tour winner, and these skills make him incredibly difficult to beat if he doesn’t crash out.
  • Roglič’s decision to blow by Mas in the final few hundred meters got some criticism from the media, but in my opinion, this is absurd. Roglič races to win, and it is crazy to suggest he needs to hold back to avoid winning stages and ‘embarrassing’ other riders.
  • In fact, it would have been more embarrassing for Mas, a star in his own right if Roglič would have slowed down and ridden just behind him to avoid passing him in the final straight.

Roglič passed Mas in the last meters

2) Roglič’s stage win also saw him take the overall win with a massive 4’42 gap over second-place Enric Mas.

  • This gap is more than the time gaps of his first two wins combined and the largest winning margin at the Vuelta since 1996.
  • Only four riders have ever won the race three times, and Roglič becomes only the third rider ever to win the race in three consecutive years. His worst-ever career finish at the Vuelta is 1st place overall.
  • This is a stunning run and means he has won more grand tours in the past three seasons than any other rider.
  • After Tadej Pogačar dramatically beat Roglič at the 2020 Tour de France, it would be hard to argue that Roglič is the better grand tour racer, but at the very least, we have to consider him a close second.
  • And after we finally got to see the third rider to win multiple grand tours since 2019, Egan Bernal, finally face off and lose against Roglič, it is clear we have two grand tour stars simply a cut above the rest.

Cort Nielsen was a revelation in la Vuelta

3) Magnus Cort, who took second to Roglič on the final stage, put in a great ride and just missed out on his 4th stage win of this Vuelta.

  • If we look at the time splits from the stage, Cort lost 20-seconds to Roglič in the first 13kms of the stage, but was able to slowly chip back time over the course before finishing 14-seconds down on Roglič at the finish.
  • Cort has not traditionally been a great time trialist, but he has slowly been improving in the discipline. For those watching closely, he got 9th place at the stage 20 time trial at the 2021 Tour de France.
  • This result on such a difficult time trial course shows that Cort is on amazing form and should be a dark horse favorite for the upcoming World Championship road race.

Second again for Mas

4) Enric Mas ties his best-ever finish in a grand tour with second place overall and, despite the major time gap to Roglič, gets the best result of his career.

  • Getting second to Roglič, one of, if not the, best grand tour rider in the world is a much better result than when he finished behind Simon Yates at the 2018 Vuelta.
  • Also, outside of stage 17, when Bernal and Roglič went clear on the penultimate climb and built up a large gap before heading into the final climb, he was able to counter Roglič’s signature Roglič-surges on the final climbs and appeared to be able to match him pedal-stroke-for-pedal-stroke.
  • But, this all changed during today’s time trial and we see once again that unless a rider has a world-class time trial, it can be difficult to win a grand tour.

Bernal, not 100%?

5) Egan Bernal puts in his best-ever grand tour time trial performance to cap a very up-and-down race.

  • At times, he appeared to be the second-strongest rider in the race, while at others, he struggled to hold pace.
  • Even with his struggles, his time trial was good enough that had he gone to the line with Haig yesterday, he would likely have finished in third place overall after today’s stage.
  • Knowing what we know now, it seems like Ineos’ tactics yesterday, even though they ended Lopez’s GC run, ended up costing them a podium finish.
  • It is worth noting that this was Bernal’s first race since getting COVID after winning the Giro in May, and it was undeniable that he didn’t look quite as strong as he did before the virus.

4th for Adam Yates at 9 minutes – Disappointing?

6) Adam Yates finished over three minutes behind Roglič on the stage and almost 30-seconds behind Jack Haig, who took the final podium spot.

  • Yates went out incredibly fast but faded as the stage went on. This hail-mary tactic is surprising coming from an Ineos rider since the team has traditionally placed a massive emphasis on time trial pacing.
  • This has to be massively disappointing for Ineos, who seemed to give Yates free reign all race long, only to have their highest-placed rider finish off the podium by nearly two minutes.

Another strong performance from Bahrain Victorious

7) Bahrain Victorious went to both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España with Mikel Landa as their GC leader. Landa DNF’d both races, but Bahrain still podiumed at both races, with Damiano Caruso getting 2nd at the Giro and Haig getting 3rd here.

  • This is an incredible bounceback and hints at a great structure inside the team.
  • It also isn’t a great endorsement of Mikel Landa, who will struggle to find his place in the team when he returns. His decision to drop out of the race mid-stage after one of his attacks failed instead of sticking around to help Jack Haig and Gino Mäder ride to the best GC results of their careers certainly won’t endear him to his team.
  • It is notable that they lost their rock-star performance director Rod Ellingworth in the offseason when he went back to Ineos. Their performance bump since then could be completely unrelated, but it certainly isn’t a great look for Ellingworth that Bahrain’s fortunes seem to be on the rise while Ineos has hit a rough patch.

Jack Haig was ‘solid’

8) Jack Haig’s 3rd place overall is massive for him and his career.

  • But, it is obvious that the time trial will be his major limiter going forward.
  • Adding to the difficulty, it is extremely difficult for tall riders without a natural time trial ability to retroactively become good time trialists, since their height gives them a massive aerodynamic disadvantage.
  • BikeExchange has to be kicking themselves that they let him go at the end of 2020.

Sepp Kuss had his moments

9) Sepp Kuss lost over five minutes on his teammate Roglič on the stage to finish 18’55 back in 8th place overall.

    This is a good finish positioning, but it is an obscene amount of time to lose in a single stage and shows potentially disqualifying weaknesses in his GC resume.

Roglič unbeatable in the time trial

10) We see once again that time trials are the most underrated discipline in grand tour racing.

  • I will do a full breakdown of where riders won/lost time in a post early next week, but at a glance, Roglič took 2’22 from Mas and 3’13 from Haig in the 40-kilometers of time trials.
  • And having time trials stacked at the end of the race gives a massive advantage to superior time trialists, since although less-proficient riders should act as though they are racing from 2-3 minutes down, they almost always fail to, and chose instead to take their chances in the final time trial, where they almost always get blown out.

More good work from the Jumbo-Visma team

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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